Garlic and Health

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When was garlic discovered?

No one knows for sure, but garlic has been written about as early as 5000 years ago, around 3000 BC, by Chinese scholars who enjoyed it as a condiment and also used it for medicinal purposes. The earliest Sanskrit writings contained articles about garlic used as seasoning for sacrificial lambs to please the gods. Siberians, Egyptians, Israelites "worship" garlic and consider it a valuable part of their cooking and meals. The King of Babylon, Homer, the Vikings, Phoenicians, and even Marco Polo, "were crazy" about garlic. From time immemorial, the superstitious hang garlic garland around their neck and a bunch of garlic bulbs by the entrance of their house to ward off vampires and bad spirits.

Which family is garlic a member of?

Garlic is a close relative of onions and a member of the lily family. Today, garlic has been processed as oil, paste, cream, capsules and powder, mostly for what manufacturers claim as "of medicinal value." Most of us Asians, Europeans, and to a lesser extent Americans, love garlic as an essential ingredient in our daily diet. While its popularity declined at the beginning of the century, after being revered by the people all over the world for centuries, it is today quite popular, not only in the supermarkets but in health food stores.

Is there more than one kind of garlic?

Yes. There are around 300 strains grown around the globe. The one considered the best is the Late variety. Others are Early Chileno, Chilean and Egyptian. Late garlic has firm bulbs, strong flavor and stays fresh much longer. Most garlic consumed in the United States is from California, which supplies 90% of garlic grown in America, and rated among the best in quality. Annually, more than 500 million pounds of garlic are grown (15,000 pound harvest per acre) in this "garlic capital of the U.S.A." Of this, only about 120 million pounds are sold fresh, the rest is dehydrated and used in pickles, catsup, mustard and meat preparations. Part of this is sold a garlic powder, oil and also as capsules for "medicinal use."

Does garlic really improve libido?

This has been alleged for centuries, and garlic has been used, as food and as skin oil or paste, for this very purpose. It has been labeled as an "invigorating tonic, elixir of youth, and in the 5th century BC street vendors in Greece sold garlic, chanting "It is the truth, garlic gives men youth!" This is a claim that has not been proven. Even Viagra, which is most effective in Erectile Dysfunction in men, does not improve libido. No drug or substance has been found as yet that will create, induce or improve sexual desire.

What are the other health claims about garlic?

Garlic has also been claimed to have the following beneficial medicinal value: fat-melting, cholesterol-lowering, infection-fighting, immune system-enhancing, cancer-preventing/curing-anti-oxidant,blood clot-preventing, headache/fever/cough-relieving, bronchitis-curing, and blood pressure-controlling. Many swear that garlic improves digestion, and also good for the treatment of earache, asthma, rheumatism, athlete's foot, ringworm, etc.

Have there been scientific studies on garlic?

Yes, there have been various studies done in the United States and all over the world on the medicinal value garlic. However, many of these were not truly genuine scientific investigations. Todate, inspite of our advanced technology, there is still no proof that garlic has the therapeutic values that people claim it to have. In those few legitimate studies, there are preliminary suggestions that possibly garlic does have cholesterol-lowering, cancer risk-reducing, bacteria/viral fighting, and blood thinning properties. More extensive laboratory and human clinical researches are still needed to solve the garlic mystery. This is one food supplement I surmise will show great promise for alternative medicine.

What is the active ingredient in garlic?

The active substance in garlic is an amino acid called allicin, which, according to scientists, has some bactericidal and antibiotic action. During World War I the British treated infected wounds with garlic. The Prophet Mohammed used garlic to ease the pain of insect bites and stings. The Father of Modern Medicine, Hippocrates, himself thought garlic was good for many illnesses. Unfortunately, these claims have yet to be substantiated by modern science.

Does garlic have any side-effects?

While there is doubt that garlic in fact has all those alleged good medicinal attributes, the only side-effect of garlic ingestion could be stomach irritation. So, unlike most medicinal "food supplements" on the market today, garlic at least does not have the potential serious adverse effects that others, like Noni, have. It is a well-documented fact among the world's garlic eater like you and me that garlic is safe and tastes simply great. In this particular situation, this writer believes, as millions of lay people and physicians around the world do, that garlic ingestion is not harmful to our body and should be encouraged. At least it does not do any harm, except, perhaps to one's reputation as a romantic lover who wears pungent-smelling eau de toilette and a breath that keeps vampires, sorcerers and witches away.

How can one get rid of the garlic "aroma"?

To wash it off your hands and fingers after peeling and chopping garlic, use salt and lemon , and rinse with cold water right away. To make it easier to peel, first immerse the whole garlic cloves in boiling water for five seconds. After eating garlicky food, rinse your mouth with lemon juice and eat grated carrots. You could also chew on citrus peel, especially orange, or eat a freshly washed apple, or chew on mints, parsley, fennel, dill seed, anise, or, cinnamon. Bubble gum might also help. But since love conquers all, you do not have to worry too much, as long as you are reasonably sensitive and considerate of your vampire and sorcerer friends.

How should garlic be taken?

Some people advocate eating 2 to 3 cloves of fresh garlic three times a day. Since there are no unequivocal medical studies made, there is no standardization and no dosage recommendation can make. For me, the best way to take garlic is as a condiment, with the food we eat every day, or as a "sawsawan" with vinegar and a little salt, or with our fried rice, adobo, and other food that are sauteed with garli. While there are garlic capsules being sold as food supplements, we are not medically convinced that these "pills" are of any more superior potency compared to fresh or cooked garlic in food. As a matter of fact, many of them are of questionable composition and quality, and are very expensive. We suggest saving your hard-earned money and simply buying quality garlic in the supermarket instead. With your extra cash, you could buy honest-to-goodness parfum or cologne.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.